This study was designed to determine the effect of menopause and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on plasma cholesteryl ester fatty acid (CEFA) composition and insulin sensitivity and the relationships between these variables in perimenopausal women (aged 40-55 years) including 49 who were premenopausal and 32 who were postmenopausal. Plasma cholesteryl ester proportions of dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (20:3 n-6) were correlated significantly with insulin sensitivity index (r=-0.319, P=0.005), fasting serum insulin levels (r=0.230, P=0.038), body mass index (r=0.242, P=0.03) and per cent body fat (r=0.329, P=0.003) in perimenopausal women (n=81). Similar associations were observed in premenopausal women. Regression analysis suggested the relationships between 20:3 n-6 proportions and indices of insulin action may be partly mediated by levels of adiposity. In postmenopausal women, 6 months of HRT significantly (P=0.008) increased the ratio of arachidonic acid (20:4 n-6) to linoleic acid (18:2 n-6), which is an indicator of activity in the pathway of 20:4 n-6 synthesis, compared with placebo. These findings suggest that the type of fat in the diet indicated by plasma CEFA composition is linked to adiposity and insulin action. They also suggest that in postmenopausal women, HRT may increase the synthesis of 20:4 n-6, which is the precursor for eicosanoids with important cardiovascular functions.
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